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Apparently Goethe was a big fan of Loket back in the days when it was called Elbogen (which means 'elbow' in German) and I can quite appreciate why!
The setting of the town in the 'elbow' of a river is absolutely stunning. The technical term for this feature is an 'incised meander', and the strategic advantage of the town's location is easy to appreciate. All the inhabitants had to do to fend off landbound attackers was to secure the narrow neck of land that gave access to the town, and the precipitous walls of the river would have given added protection from waterborne assault. Perfect site selection!
For those who are interested in seeing how the same type of geomorphological feature has been used for a similar purpose elsewhere, Durham in the north of England has a similar location.
Updated Nov 21, 2011
It will probably come as little surprise to discover that the church close to the castle is dedicated to St Wenceslas, who is the patron saint of the Czech Republic.
In the English speaking world, Wenceslas is probably best known as the inspiration for the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas". However, there is little factual basis for the episode than inspired this carol - whose lyrics were only written in the 1850s by John Mason Neale, although these are set to the medieval melody "Tempus adest floridum" ("The time is near for flowering").
For one thing, Wenceslas was a Duke - not a King - of Bohemia in the 10th century who was raised by his grandmother, St Ludmila, after his father died. He was subsequently murdered by his brother, Boleslaus the Cruel, and based on his martyr status, was canonised with astonishing swiftness and became the subject of a cult that was particularly popular in Bohemia and England. He was posthumously elevated to 'kingly' status by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I a few decades later.
There has been a church on this site since the 13th century, but the orignal Gothic structure was destroyed by fire - fortunbately not before a Gothic Madonna and a statue of Christ could be recovered. It was rebuilt in 1734 in a Baroque style - unfortunately as I only visited in the evening, I could not access the interior, although given my well documented aversion to Baroque design, that might be a good thing!
There is also a churchyard adjacent to the church which I am sure is worth exploring, although I was too cowardly to visit this after dark!
Updated Nov 21, 2011
The location of the Loket castle is jawdropping, and transports you back to the 13th century when it was first constructed (although there have been considerable additions since then).
I visited because the castle was the venue for our conference dinner, which was a medieval banquet. Anyone who's spent any time on the conference circuit will attest to the fact that these can often be dire events, but due to the novelty of the setting and the excellent entertainment, this one was actually fun!
We arrived at the castle in the early evening and were told to to wait outside the locked wooden gate for entry. We were then told to knock to gain entry, only to be charged by a bunch of burly men in period costume brandishing flaming torches and bellowing in a convincingly warlike manner! Nice touch - if somewhat startling - and it did help that the 'knights' were good looking young men, who probably had infinitely better personal hygiene than the originals!
Overall the whole spectacle - from musicians to mock jousting - was very well executed and got the delegates into a party mood ... you've got to love those pointy toed shoes!!!
As for the food, well, I was left unconverted to the pleasures of medieval food and drink. Hearty soup followed by roast meats, washed down with mead ... not really my scene, but then to be frank, the food isn't really the main event here.
If you are organising a conference in Karlovy Vary, I would happily recommend this as the venue for your conference dinner.
Updated Sep 26, 2012
Visiting churches is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Europe, and provides a fascinating insight into the culture which has shaped European cultures of the past couple of millenia.
Unlike some other religions - where access to places of worship may be restricted to members of that religious group or a specific gender - the vast majority of Christian churches will allow tourists to visit at most times, including routine services (although some may charge an admission fee for doing so, and access may be denied for private events such as weddings and funerals). However, tourists need to bear in mind that most churches are still active places of worship, and so visitors need to exhibit a certain sensitivity to display respect to the culture and avoid giving offence to people at prayer.
The following guidelines are based on wonderful advice offered by Homer (homaned) - who does this for a living - in a forum response, and although specifically written for Christian places of worship, would apply equally to places of worship for other religions
So, here is a general list of do's and don'ts for people wishing to photograph during a church service:
READ THE SIGNS
If photography is not permitted - because, for example, it may damage paint on delicate murals - this will usually be indicated by a pictogram of a camera with a red line through it. Under most circumstances, you can assume that photography will be allowed (unless otherwise indicated), but may not be permitted during services. If in doubt, ask for clarification - this shows respect and will very seldom be met with anything other than a helpful response.
TURN OFF YOUR FLASH!
Every camera on the market has a button on it which will turn off the flash. The number one most alarming and distracting thing that can happen during a liturgy, and one which will even get you kicked out of some churches, is the bright flash that goes off when you take a picture. Not only is it distracting, but it usually makes the picture turn out dark, because your camera's flash only has about a 10-15' range. Turn off the flash, and hold the camera up against your eye, using the viewfinder, and you will likely get a better picture (and you definitely won't have any red-eye problems!).
DON'T MOVE AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE! (UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION)
Instead of walking all over down the main aisle and in front of everybody, pick a good place from which to take a picture at the beginning of the liturgy, and stay there. Unless you're a professional photographer with practice at stealthily moving during liturgies, you're a distraction, and you're being disrespectful. Even if you're a pro, try to stick to one out-of-the-way place, and use a zoom lens and zoom in to get pictures. Walking in front of people is a surefire way to distract and disrespect and closing in on priests or other celebrants just to capitalise on a photo opportunity is offensive.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S SOUND!
Every camera has some way to mute all its 'cute' beeps and clicking noises. If you press a button, and hear a beep, or if you take a picture and hear an obnoxious shutter clicking sound, you need to turn off those sounds (the muting option is usually in one of the menus). Along with the flashing, it's an obvious sign that someone is taking pictures and not showing much respect for those trying to pay attention to the liturgy.
TURN OFF the 'focus assist' light!
If your camera can't focus without the little laser-light that shines in everyone's eyes before your camera takes a picture, then don't use your camera. You have to turn that light off! It is very distracting to be watching a lector or priest, and see a little red dot or lines pop up on his face all of the sudden. It's as if some rifleman is making his mark! Turn the light off (again, look in the menus for the option to turn off the 'AF assist' or 'focus assist' light). If you can't turn it off, put a piece of duct tape or some other opaque material over the area where the light is, so the light won't shine on someone.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S LCD!
You should never use the LCD to compose your shots anyways; just put your eye up to the viewfinder, and that will not only not distract, it will also steady your camera against your face, making for a better picture (especially if you don't have the flash on). And if you must review the pictures you've taken, hold the camera in front of you, down low, so people behind you don't notice the big, bright LCD display on your camera
CERTAIN PARTS OF THE CEREMONY ARE PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE
Photographing the blessing of the eucharist (bread and wine) and distribution of communion to the congregation are considered to be particularly sacred parts of the service, and it is offensive to photograph these activities.
The main thing is to try to be respectful of the culture and of other people present at the service. Don't distract. And, if you are asked to not take pictures, or if there's a sign saying 'no photography allowed,' then don't take pictures. You can always ask a priest's permission before the liturgy, but if he says 'No,' put away your camera and enjoy the freedom you have to focus on the privilege of being able to share an experience with people who consider these religious rituals core to their culture and identity, rather than focusing on your camera's LCD!
Homer's Rules ... Homer rules!
Updated Dec 26, 2012